Emily and Otis sittin’ in a tree…

During today’s class we were asked to discuss what kinds of things stuck out to us in our recent reading of ED’s letters from 1866-1883. When we got back to large group a lot of us talked about ED’s views on death and immortality, what her letters showed about her domesticity and what she felt and thought about her family and home. But one of the major topics I don’t think our class touched upon was ED’s letters to Judge Otis Lord. Alyssa was in my small group and seemed to be thoroughly annoyed (correct me if I’m wrong!) by these letters. I agree with her sentiments. They were just like the Master letters, in that she sounded way to desperate and whiny. None of us want to picture our bff Emily Dickinson this way! But this connection got me thinking… Why were Emily’s letters to Sue, Otis, and the unknown “Master” so different than all the rest? Why is she taking on this persona we don’t like for only certain letters. This does not seem like something she would do. I was just wondering what other people’s thoughts were about this or just about the Judge Otis letters in general.

a few follow-up notes from class

Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, editors of Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Gilbert Dickinson, say, “Nearly all of Susan’s letters to Emily were destroyed at the time of the poet’s death.  This would have been the result of a routine ‘house-cleaning,’ reflecting the common practice in the nineteenth century to either destroy or return to the senders all letters received by the deceased” (xiii).  They also maintain that “Emily and Susan’s relationship surpasses in depth, passion, and continuity the stereotype of the ‘intimate exchange’ between women friends of the period” (xiv).

Also, the poem “One Sister have I” was sent to Sue in a letter in late 1858.  Dickinson later transcribed the poem, with some variants, and sewed it into fascicle two.  Martha Dickinson Bianchi (Sue’s daughter) published it in 1914 from the copy she had in her mother’s papers (the fact that Sue received a bulk of Emily’s poems over the years in letters accounts for some of the division of work between the rival editors), and it is believed that Mabel Loomis Todd or Austin Dickinson scribbled out the facsimile version, meaning that Vinnie must have given them the poem with the other fascicles after Emily’s death.